Observations: Michael is a Mann of the moment

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The revered 69-year-old American director Michael Mann is serving as president of the Venice Film Festival international jury. It’s a prospect he is relishing. No, he has never done jury service before. However, he’s on the Foreign Language Film committee for the Oscars. “They are the best three days of the year!” he enthuses of the period in which he watches the short-listed films. “It’s a total immersion in cinema.”

The American is a huge cinephile, with wide-ranging tastes and enthusiasms. Last month, when he contributed his Top 10 to Sight & Sound magazine’s Greatest Films Of All Time poll, he raised eyebrows by choosing James Cameron’s Avatar as one of the benchmarks in cinema history.

“We are experiencing them (films) in the present. One isn’t certain about relevance in the present. Sometimes, things that are tremendously important are historically totally disregarded,” says Mann about the tendency to value older movies more highly than newer ones. He strongly disputes the idea that historical perspective is needed to assess a film’s significance. “I don’t think that way. I am excited by innovative modes of storytelling. Whether it’s last year’s Incendies by Denis Villeneuve, this year’s Bullhead by Michael Roskam or the Iranian film A Separation, I am fascinated by how narrative evolves.”

As for Avatar, he sees Cameron’s 3D opus as “an amazing accomplishment. It doesn’t resonate on so many levels of our perception without having real harmonic patterns of design...the scholarship in the film is way overlooked. He didn’t spend seven or eight years writing it for nothing.”

Mann is best known for making noirish, hardboiled crime movies including Heat (1995) starring Robert De Niro, The Insider (1999) with Al Pacino, and Miami Vice (2006) starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx as police detectives Crockett and Tubbs. However, he is currently hatching a film that promises to be in a completely different register. He is in the early stages of preparing a medieval epic about the Battle of Agincourt, based on Bernard Cornwell’s novel Azincourt.

Mann hasn’t directed a movie since Public Enemies in 2009. But he has remained busy, producing HBO’s gambling drama Luck, and his daughter, Ami Canaan Mann’s film, Texas Killing Fields. He is also executive producer on Witness, an HBO series about combat photographers. One of the four films, Witness: Libya, will be screening in Venice. 

Venice Film festival runs until  8 September (www.labiennale.org)